COLLABORATION

UBC Okanagan teams with industry to develop next-generation battery

SOURCE: Nadin Panina/Shutterstock
UBC Okanagan is collaborating with Fenix Advanced Materials to design and develop a battery that is smaller and more powerful than any currently available. 


By Emma Richards 

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Batteries – the ever-present item in our hyper-connected world that we don’t spend much time thinking about until they’re almost dead. We’re all familiar with the impending sense of doom that comes with seeing your phone battery life has dropped into single digits and desperately trying to extend battery life.

But it’s not just phones that rely on the stored energy lifeline. While they’ve long been common in regular household items, the need for batteries is expanding fast as technology innovates and creates more powered devices. We’re way past the simple AAA batteries powering your remote control. Batteries now come in all shapes and sizes, powering everything from as small as a watch to as big as a whole town.

The increased prevalence and importance means batteries need to be more efficient and reliable than ever, which is where researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan (UBC Okanagan) come in.

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Researchers are collaborating with Fenix Advanced Materials to design and develop a battery that is smaller and more powerful than any currently available.

The team will use raw materials from fellow BC companies that include Teck Metals, Retriev Technologies, Eagle Graphite, Deer Horn Capital, and Fenix themselves, to extend battery life.

According to the university, the goal is to create a tellurium-based cathode – a tiny device that will be used to make all-solid-state, lithium-tellurium batteries. Tellurium, a rare metal byproduct of copper and lead-zinc smelting, has characteristics that will enable miniature, all-solid-state lithium-tellurium battery devices with both high energy density and a high safety rating.

UBCO engineering students Peter Zhao and Huibing He examine the component of a tiny lithium-tellurium battery along with assistant professor Jian Liu (right). Source: UBC Okanagan

“Improvements are necessary thanks to many other emerging devices such as medical implants, wireless sensors and radio-frequency identification,” Assistant Professor in the School of Engineering at UBC Okanagan, Jian Liu, said in a statement.

“Due to the limited space and high-reliability requirements in these new devices, researchers are exploring technologies that possess high-energy density and more stable configurations.”

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This collaboration is likely just the first of many to stem from the project. The university anticipates several spin-off partnerships that integrate the supply of raw materials with the development and manufacture of next-generation lithium-tellurium batteries.

International partnerships already under discussion include the National Cheng Kung University in Taiwan and the Flemish Institute for Technological Research in Belgium.

The research was made possible through a Mitacs Accelerate Grant with partnership from Fenix Advanced Materials and Metal Tech Alley.